On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.
Diana Prince: Wonder Woman vol. 1, DC Comics, 2008.
A couple weeks ago, I left off just as J. Michael Straczynski was starting a run that suddenly reinvented Wonder Woman as a street-level urban vigilante with no memory of her previous life. But the thought of getting into all of that right now just makes me tired, so I thought I’d take a look at a previous era when Diana’s Amazon heritage was stripped away and she had to rely on her wits and martial arts.
I’ve alluded in the past to the swinging ’60s era when Wonder Woman lost her powers and Diana Prince was turned into a karate-chopping adventurer in the mod mode of Emma Peel. But that summary doesn’t even do it justice. I mean, for one thing she learned karate super quickly from an old blind Chinese man named… wait for it… I Ching. Seriously. Never mind that karate isn’t even a Chinese martial art. The wacky Silver Age stories of longtime Wonder Woman scribe Robert Kanigher were out all of a sudden, and the go-go antics of writer-artist Mike Sekowsky were in. Diana Prince: Wonder Woman vol. 1 collects the first seven issues of the run, issues 178-184 of the original Wonder Woman series that had been running since the early ’40s.
Wonder Woman #178, DC Comics, October 1968.
For the first four issues of the run, the scripts were written by Denny O’Neil, who’d go on to pen classic runs of Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow and The Question. But even then Sekowsky was credited with “continuity” as well as pencils, and by issue 182, he was writing the whole thing as well as drawing it. Right away they started getting into the swing of things by having Wonder Woman’s straight-laced boyfriend Steve Trevor fall in with a bunch of hippies, giving Sekowsky occasion to jump into the psychedelic backgrounds that would characterize this period.
In any case, before she transforms into the new-model Wonder Woman, Diana has to want to change. First step: Get Steve framed for murder! Some guy who was mouthing off to Wonder Woman, getting him a sock in the jaw from Steve, got bumped off later that same night. And what’s Steve’s alibi? He was hanging out with some hippie chick whose name he doesn’t know, and nobody else seems to have seen her.
The story’s called “Wonder Woman’s Rival,” but the rival in question isn’t the aforementioned flower child, even though Steve was totally chatting her up in a bar. Wondy doesn’t care about that. What tears her up is that she cannot tell a lie on the witness stand; Steve said that guy “didn’t deserve to live.”
That pretty much seals Steve’s conviction, and Diana launches into a full-on pity party, blaming herself for him being in jail. (That’s okay—he blames her too.) For some reason she decides it’s her fault not just for telling the truth but for living a double life in the first place. Crying, she hurls Diana Prince’s uniform across the room and breaks her glasses in two.
Because she’s failed Steve as Wonder Woman, she figures, she has to save him as Diana Prince. But square Diana would never fit in around the hippie scene, and you know what that means: Shopping spree!
Diana makes the scene in her new gear, leading to some absolutely hilarious dialogue as O’Neil tries to capture the slang of the day. Some sleazy hippie tries to pick up on Diana, but as soon as she starts asking about this woman Steve met, he tries to get rid of her.
Some old dude tries to help her, telling her that people were after that no-name chick and she’s in hiding, but before he can tell Diana where to find her, he gets killed in a biker attack. Oh well! Diana will just have to scour the local pawn shops for the cat ring that was the only thing that could help her identify the woman. Diana doesn’t seem to have much of a reaction to the old hippie’s death, though, just moving on to the next clue. “So she’s just going to leave his body to rot?” my wife asked when I showed her this issue. Well, the attack took place in a cemetery, so he’s in a good place for it.
She meets up with Roger Seely, who’s ostensibly Steve’s best friend, though we’ve never seen him before and he’s obviously a creep, scheming to make sure Wondy doesn’t clear Steve’s name. And the dead guy was Roger’s business partner, so you can pretty much see where this is going.
Sekowsky has a habit of drawing the same face on different characters. A hippie guitarist in the cemetery looks almost exactly like the skeezy guy who was picking up on her a couple pages earlier, and Steve’s sinister “best friend” is a dead ringer for the prosecutor in Steve’s trial.
Everything turns out okay in the end, at least for the moment, and Steve is cleared. But remember when I said that hippie chick wasn’t Wonder Woman’s rival? Well, it’s none other than Diana Prince! Steve is so thankful for Diana’s help, for once, that he starts really taking notice of her, even saying that maybe he should ask Diana out while he’s cuddling Wonder Woman! Dude, that guy is a player.
So Wondy is left angsting about whether she can be jealous of herself, exactly like she used to be way back in the 1940s—only this time Wonder Woman’s jealous of Diana instead of vice versa. And clearly the problem isn’t her fickle boyfriend. She’s got to change to keep him interested.
Wonder Woman #179, DC Comics, December 1968.
In one fell swoop, O’Neil and Sekowsky wipe away Wonder Woman’s entire supporting cast. Steve Trevor suddenly becomes a fugitive as part of a shadowy undercover operation to infiltrate a criminal organization. But that’s not as jarring to me as it is to see Steve smoking cigarettes; it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen characters do that who weren’t supposed to be the bad-boy type. Heck, back in the old days you’d even see Hal Jordan smoking from time to time. Of course there were a lot of pipes, too, but somehow those don’t count. Pipes are classy.
Diana’s distressed to hear all the reports of her honey pie being a traitor, but there’s no time to worry about that. Her mom’s calling her telepathically to come a-running. (I guess this is what they used to call “mental radio” back in the 1940s.) Queen Hippolyta tells her daughter that the Amazons have to go to another dimension for a while to renew their powers, because after 10,000 years their magic has pretty much petered out. Wondy says she can’t go with them—not because she has a life elsewhere, not because she has to save the world, but because Steve needs her. Apparently she has to give up her powers if she’s going to stay behind, so she performs an elaborate “rite of renunciation” and returns to Man’s World as a normal human.
So no Steve, no Amazons, no powers, no costume—and apparently no job either. I must have missed the part where Diana quit her military job and gave up her (I guess now that Steve’s not there, there’s no point in staying), but now she’s looking for a place in New York’s Lower East Side. (Wow, I guess this period really is a precursor to the JMS one that I’m avoiding.) Maybe she’ll open a shop, she thinks, randomly. But wait! Some hoodlums are attacking an old Chinese guy dressed like a Blues Brother! She goes to try to rescue the old blind guy, but he’s already kicked all the thugs’ asses. Meet I Ching! This guy already knows all about Diana and about Steve. He’s “the last surviving member of an ancient sect” in a mountaintop monastery that was wiped out by Western gangsters raiding it for its riches—agents of a mysterious Doctor Cyber, who Ching says is half man, half machine and is bent on world conquest.
Clearly there’s only one thing to do: Training montage! I Ching teaches Diana karate to make up for her lost Amazon powers. And after months of this, Steve stumbles in. He’s been shot! I guess that whole infiltrating plan didn’t work at all.
Doctor Cyber has some cockamamie plan about taking over the world through exploding toys sent to congressmen’s kids, so Diana and I Ching have to karate-chop a bunch of toys, with Ching spouting aphorisms and unsolicited advice constantly. Seriously, this guy does nothing but nag. They save the day, but Steve’s in a coma! Oh, Steve, Steve, Steve! What won’t the writers do to get you out of the picture?
Wonder Woman #180, DC Comics, February 1969.
We’re not done assembling Diana’s new supporting cast. Meet Tim Trench, cynical private eye. Diana and Ching catch him tailing them, so Diana greets him the way she always does these days—with a karate chop. But he’s gunning for Doctor Cyber too, and the next thing you know they’re under attack by the Doctor’s goons.
Just as Cyber’s people shot Steve and wiped out Ching’s whole monastery, apparently they also killed Trench’s partner, named (I shit you not) Archy Miles. I guess when someone kills your partner, you’re supposed to do something about it.
Diana gets a call that Steve’s taken a turn for the worse, but it’s a traaaaap! The cabbie’s a cute chick who takes the cab for a long drive on a short pier. Good thing I Ching taught Diana how to hold her breath really long, something she used to be able to do anyway. Actually it seems that a lot of Cyber’s goons are lovely young women, as Trench discovers when he and Ching fight more of them.
No sooner do the three get home from their adventure than they’re lured out with another phone call, this time telling them to go to a remote old mansion for information about Doctor Cyber. Well, how could they resist? But once they get there… oh no, it’s Steve! And he’s been shot! Again!
Amazingly enough considering how quick and cursory the scene is, Steve’s really dead this time, and Diana is on the warpath. Ching tries to spout his usual moralizing about how anger leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side, but she’s not having it. They battle their way through more of Cyber’s minions—also women, of course—but Tim Trench is captured and taken to Doctor Cyber, who at last is revealed. And he’s…another hot chick!
What can this all mean? Is everybody going to be hot chicks now? Is that Cyber’s fiendish master plan? Probably not, but we can hope, right? You’ll just have to check back next week to find out!